Following Theresa May’s failure to get her Withdrawal Agreement past Parliament, additional votes were called, including the ruling out of Britain leaving the EU without a deal on 29 March—the deadline set by Article 50.
However, an amendment tabled by the West Midlands MPs Caroline Spelman and Jack Dromey, meant the vote that went before Parliament ruled out a No Deal Brexit at ‘any time and under any circumstances’.
While the vote was not technically binding under UK law – meaning the UK could still crash out of the EU with a No Deal on 29 March – Prime Minister Theresa May issued a three-line whip, ordering Conservative MPs to vote against the bill, but this was ignored by Mr Clark, who abstained from the vote, which the government lost by 321 to 278.
A further vote was then won by the Government calling for an extension of the Article 50 deadline.
This week, the MP for Tunbridge Wells, Kent’s only district that voted to stay in the EU with 54.9% wanting to remain and 45.1% voting to leave, outlined his reasons for the way he voted the way he did last week.
He said: “The close result in the Referendum and the need to unwind over 45 years of membership of the EU in an orderly way meant that this was never going to be an easy process. Nor was it ever likely to satisfy everyone, and we have to be prepared to find common ground.
“I believe the deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated deserves support. It would take us out of the European Union in a way that maintains our ability to trade easily with our biggest customers.
“My strong view is that we should not leave abruptly without a deal in just two weeks’ time.
“That is why last week, along with a majority in Parliament, I voted for a short extension to Article 50 if it is needed rather than to leave without a deal on 29 March.”
He said a No Deal Brexit would be ‘highly damaging’ for business and would risk the livelihoods of people in Tunbridge Wells.
“In my role as Secretary of State for Business, I have met with thousands of employers and their message has been overwhelmingly clear: a disruptive, no deal Brexit will be highly damaging for business, which in turn could potentially put the jobs and livelihoods of many of my constituents at risk,” said the MP.
Mr Clark was one of a number of Conservative ministers who defied the whip and disobeyed the prime minister, choosing to abstain rather than vote down the bill.
In total, thirteen junior ministers and ministers defied the government whips, including Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Amber Rudd, and Justice Secretary, David Gauke.
Downing Street did not sack any of those who abstained, something which caused heated scenes in Westminster, with some in the Conservative Party claiming Theresa May had ‘lost control’ over the party.
Fellow Tory MPs called for Mr Clark to resign from his position as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Climate Change, including Andrea Jenkyns, who quit her own role as Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government over Brexit last year.
In addition, 57 per cent of people in a Survation Poll held after last week’s vote who were asked whether Cabinet ministers who defied May over No Deal should resign, indicated that they should.
And last week, Tunbridge Wells Conservative Association held its annual general meeting, and while it dismissed a no confidence motion in Mr Clark, some members of the Conservative Association including Tunbridge Wells Borough Councillor for Paddock Wood, Claire Stewart, joined calls for Greg Clark to step down.
She said: “Greg Clark was elected on a Conservative manifesto that said we would leave the European Union in March and no deal was better than a bad deal.
“He has reneged on that manifesto. Under any other leadership he would’ve been sacked.
“If he can’t respect the prime minister and he can’t respect his own party’s manifesto then he shouldn’t be an MP.”
[Breakout]Defying a three-line whip
THE Whip is a document outlining the government’s plans and the way it wants party members to vote. Each week, party officials known as ‘the whips’ send out this document to MPs or Lords detailing upcoming parliamentary business.
Special attention is paid to where members should vote on debates, known as ‘divisions’, which are ranked in order of importance by the number of times they are underlined.
A division underlined three times is known as a ‘three-line whip’ and normally applies to major events like the second readings of significant Bills. A three-line whip means members of parliament for a political party must vote in a debate and vote the way the government has asked them.
To defy a three-line whip is a serious act of rebellion, and often results in the whip being withdrawn from an MP or Lord—effectively expelling them from their political party (although they still sit as an MP but an independent until the whip is restored).
None of the ministers that defied last week’s three-line whip has had it withdrawn, which some suggest indicates Mrs May does not have the authority to prevent some of her government rebelling on Brexit.